Deng Xiaoping

We Are Undertaking An Entirely New Endeavour


Published: October 13, 1987
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


The “cultural revolution” caused us to waste ten whole years. At bottom, most of the mistakes made during the socialist period in China have come from the “Left”, and the “Left” things started in 1957.

From a historical perspective, it was only after we corrected the “Left” mistakes that our democratic revolution began to succeed, a change that was marked by the Zunyi Meeting. That meeting put an end to the domination of Wang Ming’s “Left” adventurism in the Party’s central leadership and established the leadership of Mao Zedong.

By constantly correcting “Left” and Right mistakes, the Party achieved nationwide victory in the people’s revolution, established the People’s Republic and launched socialist construction. During the first eight years after the founding of the People’s Republic — that is, from 1949 through the first half of 1957 — our development was sound and our policies were appropriate. In the latter half of 1957 we began to combat Rightists on the political front. That was necessary at the time. But we went too far, including too many people as targets, which was a mistake. After that came the Great Leap Forward in 1958 and the people’s commune movement, which were totally incompatible with objective conditions and during which we got carried away and tried to develop too rapidly. In fact, beginning in the latter half of 1957 we departed from the line set at the Eighth National Congress of the Party, and we persisted in this “Left” deviation up to 1976, a period of nearly 20 years. This “Left” deviation culminated in the “cultural revolution”.

Nevertheless, we learned some lessons from these experiences. After we smashed the Gang of Four and ended the “cultural revolution”, we made a critical review of our history and set ourselves the task of emancipating our minds and restoring Comrade Mao Zedong’s ideological line of seeking truth from facts. Throughout the period of the new-democratic revolution, as well as during the early period of the socialist revolution and construction, Comrade Mao Zedong’s ideas were correct, and we must not discard them. During this long period Comrade Mao Zedong successfully integrated the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism with the realities in China, proposing the creative strategy of encircling the cities from the countryside and taking the path of the October Revolution while adopting different methods. Because we paid close attention to the realities in China and proceeded from those realities in everything we did, we accomplished the new-democratic revolution and moved smoothly into the socialist period.

This is one aspect of our history, when we did the correct thing. The 20 years of “Left” errors I just mentioned is the other aspect. We have studied both the positive and negative aspects of our experience in revolution and construction, and since the Third Plenary Session of the Party’s Eleventh Central Committee in 1978 we have formulated a series of new principles and policies. These principles and policies are designed, in essence, to restore and uphold Comrade Mao Zedong’s ideological line of seeking truth from facts, which we are following as we explore ways of building socialism in China. What we are undertaking now is an entirely new endeavour.

During the period of the Gang of Four, the general understanding of communism was, in their own words, that it was better to be poor under communism than rich under capitalism. That is simply absurd! Marxism is another name for communism, and a cardinal principle of Marxism is to apply during the socialist period the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his work, and during the communist period the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. To apply this second principle will require great material abundance: how could a poor society afford to operate on the principle of to each according to his needs? How could a communist society be poor?

On the basis of the analysis of our experience, we have proposed that the central task for the entire period of socialism should be to develop the productive forces, which is true Marxism. For China, the first thing is to throw off poverty. To do that we have to find a way to develop fairly rapidly. Poverty is not socialism, and development that is too slow is not socialism either. If they were, how would socialism be superior? Under socialism, when the productive forces are developed, the result belongs to the people. In other words, in China a bourgeoisie will not emerge during the process of development, because our principle of distribution is to each according to his work. Naturally, the distribution is not entirely uniform, but our goal is common prosperity. We shall have to work hard for a number of years to demonstrate the superiority of socialism and to show that we are right to take the socialist road.

On the basis of this understanding of socialism, we are seeking the course we should follow. This involves every domain — political, economic, cultural and so on. We have decided to engage in development and reform, striving for fairly rapid growth. Speaking of reform, actually we had already experimented with it in 1974 and 1975. When Premier Zhou Enlai became gravely ill in 1973, he sent people to Jiangxi Province to bring me back from the “cowshed”, and I took over some of his work with the State Council. In 1975 I began to take charge of the day-to-day work of the Central Committee. In those days, the reform was called consolidation, and we emphasized the need to develop the economy, first of all by bringing order to production. In every place where this was carried out, it was successful.

Before long I was again toppled by the Gang of Four. I was toppled three times and rehabilitated three times. During the April 5th Movement in 1976, when the people commemorated the late Premier Zhou, many showed their support for me as well. This showed that in 1974 and 1975 the reform had enjoyed popular support and reflected the wishes of the people. After the Gang of Four was defeated, the Eleventh Central Committee, at its Third Plenary Session, reaffirmed the ideological line of seeking truth from facts and defined the central task for the Party and the country as development of the productive forces. After that, the reform was resumed.

This time it began in the countryside. When the peasants, who make up 80 per cent of China’s population, could not even be guaranteed adequate food and clothing, how could we demonstrate the superiority of socialism? Once the reform was instituted, the peasants became motivated. Then we turned to restructuring the urban economy, applying what we had learned from reform in the countryside. Opening to the outside world is also a part of reform; and, on the whole, it too can be called reform. Thanks to nine years of hard work, 90 per cent of the rural population now has enough food and clothing. And our ten-year task of doubling the per capita GNP has been fulfilled two years ahead of schedule.

Our successes have inspired us and strengthened our confidence. Accordingly, at the Party’s Thirteenth Congress we shall decide to speed up the reform. We shall not only quicken the pace of economic restructuring but also put political restructuring on the agenda.

Our first objective was to solve the problem of food and clothing, which we have now done. The second objective is to secure a relatively comfortable life for our people by the end of the century, and the third is to reach the level of moderately developed countries in the first 50 years of the next century. What we need to do now is buckle down to developing the productive forces faster through reform, keep to the socialist road and demonstrate by our achievements the superiority of socialism. It may take two, three or even four generations to reach this goal. But by then we shall be able to say, with perfect assurance and with the facts to support us, that socialism is superior to capitalism.

These are some of our ideas, and now we need to expound them, realistically and in depth, from a theoretical point of view. The path we are taking will be tortuous, and it will be hard to avoid mistakes, but we shall do our best to learn quickly from experience and to make no major mistakes. More important, we shall not allow minor reverses to discourage us from moving boldly forward.

I quite agree with the suggestion you just made about developing relations between our two parties and our two countries. Let our former problems be water over the dam, and let us look to the future. There are two crucial things here: first, both our countries are keeping to the socialist road and upholding Marxism; second, each is following that road in accordance with its own characteristics and conditions. We can copy neither the ways of Western capitalist countries nor those of other socialist countries; still less can we afford to give up the advantages of our own system. One of the advantages in China, for instance, is leadership by the Communist Party. We must uphold Communist Party leadership. Of course, the Party should also accept supervision and be subject to restrictions. We are now raising the question of separating the functions of the Party from those of the government. But no matter how that is done, it will still be the Party that leads, and the separation will be designed to strengthen its leadership. Even the Communist Party cannot avoid making mistakes, but as long as we persist in seeking truth from facts, continue to carry out reform, follow our own path and do not make any grave mistakes, our cause will develop vigorously.

Democratic centralism is another of our advantages. This system works to foster unity among the people, making it much better than Western-style democracy. And once we make a decision, it can be immediately implemented. Take another example. In dealing with the problem of ethnic minorities, China has not adopted a federal system of separate republics but a system of autonomous regions. We believe this system works quite well and is consistent with conditions in China. In short, we have many advantages which make our socialist system superior and which must not be abandoned. So we shall uphold the Four Cardinal Principles.

(Excerpt from a talk with General Secretary Kádár János of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Hungary.)